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BSL interpreter playing a key role in coronavirus briefings

BSL interpreter playing a key role in coronavirus briefings
3rd June 2020 Ian Streets

A British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter has given an insight into her work after being catapulted to stardom by her role in keeping the public informed about the coronavirus pandemic.
Cathryn McShane-Kouyaté told the BBC she has “suddenly become a familiar face to many” and keeps being recognised in the supermarket.
She said: “I’ve had it in places like the post office or from the security guard at Sainsbury’s. “People who’ve seen my face over the years and recognise me as a customer say ‘Is it you who’s on the telly?’
“People I haven’t spoken to for years have been calling or emailing me, some people I haven’t seen since school, and neighbours.”
Cathryn, who works as the BSL interpreter for the Welsh Government’s televised daily Covid-19 updates, said she never set out to be an interpreter but fell in love with the subject after talking a night class in BSL while studying at Cardiff University.
She said: “I didn’t think of it as a career until years and years later.”
Cathryn has been quietly freelancing for the Welsh Government for over a decade but this this is the first time her work has been so public-facing.
She told the BBC she is sometimes briefed at the start on the content of the statement but does not know what questions journalists will be asking afterwards so cannot predict what the speaker will say in response.
She said: “Sometimes it’s complicated messages, some days it’s very statistics-heavy and you have to step up and do the best you can. Some days I worry it’s not the greatest interpretation. You can’t create beautiful BSL when the source you’re given is a load of statistics.”
Other issues can arise if Cathryn is working with a speaker whose delivery is very fast or laced with technical terms but her focus is to give a BSL interpretation of what has been said.
She said: “I’m not signing word for word what they’re saying. I’m trying to convey the meaning of what they’re saying in BSL.”
Cathryn has also been getting feedback on her outfits. She said: “I’d been wearing my one black suit for about a week… I washed it and put on a green dress. Then I got texts from deaf people saying it was a better contrast as I’m standing in front of grey or black drapes.
“We always wear black so your hands stand out better but because of the background I was being swallowed up.
“Since then I’ve been trying to find green things, but of course, like everyone, I can’t go shopping for clothes at the moment.”

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